Dictionary of Flowers: Pulmonaria (Lungwort)

The unusual and memorable Pulmonaria species is also known as Lungwort. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Normanack and Flickr

The unusual and memorable Pulmonaria species is also known as Lungwort. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Normanack and Flickr

  • Pulmonaria Species
  • Common name: lungwort, Jerusalem cowslip, Bethlehem sage
  • Family:  Boraginaceae
  • Category: Perennial in USDA zones 2-9, depending on species
  • Height: 6” to 18”
  • Width: 18” to 24”
  • Shade/part shade
  • Blooms: spring
  • Growth habit: clumping. Used as filler in container combinations
  • Maintenance: easy
  • Soil: average to rich, moist, well drained. Water regularly if grown in containers
  • Garden uses: containers, mixed border, woodland garden, rockery, groundcover, edging, cottage garden
  • Diseases: powdery mildew
  • Pests: slugs and snails

Mainly native to Europe, pulmonaria's name derives from the Latin word from lung. It was used medicinally to treat pulmonary ailments.

It's an evergreen perennial that forms basal rosettes of spotted leaves. The leaves are covered with fine hairs that can be bristly or soft. Spots on the leaves can be black, pale green or silver. The flowers appear on stems above the rosettes of foliage in early spring.

They are funnel shaped and colors range from white to pinks and blues and purples. The flower color can change as it matures.

They are a good source of pollen for bees in spring when not much else is blooming.

The most commonly used garden species are pulmonaria longifolia, angustifolia or saccharata. They spread by rhizomes and can self-seed. They are long lived and easy to grow.

Pulmonaria prefers shade to part shade locations. The leaves can scorch if grown in sun or when weather is hot and dry.  It grows best in soils that are amended with organic matter, whether compost, peat moss or manure.

Soil pH can be neutral to mildly acidic or alkaline. It requires constant moist soil, never allow the soil to dry totally. In dry, hot periods water pulmonaria deeply once a week or more.

Lack of drainage causes rot, but by improving soil with amendments, the problem can be easily avoided. When growing in containers, never allow the potting mix to dry. Mulching is beneficial to both help the soil stay cool in summer and to help maintain soil evenly moist.

A once yearly application of a balanced slow release formula fertilizer is all that is needed when planted in compost rich soils. Work the fertilizer in the soil around the plant and water well the first few days after application.

To tidy up the plant in spring and summer, remove spent blooms and as the season progresses, remove damaged and old foliage to allow the new leaves to appear.

IWILLWRITECAPTION. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of NAMEOFFLICKRUSER and Flickr

Pulmonaria can be propagated by seed or division. If propagating by division, lift up the plant in early fall or after it finishes blooming in late spring.

Dig out the plant carefully and divide the clump with a sharp knife. Replant the divisions immediately. They do not require division except to propagate.

Growing from seed is somewhat complicated, as germination is slow and erratic. Plant seed in moist starting mix, covered with a layer of grit or coarse sand.

The container needs to be kept at room temperature, covered to maintain moisture level, and if there is no germination in a month, it needs a period of cold stratification in the fridge.

Place container in the refrigerator and wait a month or so. Then, place back at room temperature. If germination doesn't take place after the cold stratification period, discard.




IWILLWRITECAPTION. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of NAMEOFFLICKRUSER and Flickr

Pulmonaria is free from pests, aside from occasional damage from slugs and snails. Bait as needed. It is relatively free of disease, aside from powdery mildew.

Improve air circulation and water from below to avoid the problem. Remove affected parts and treat with fungicide.

Popular varieties:

  • Pulmonaria rubra 'Redstart' - one of the earliest species to bloom. Blooms are coral red, this species grows to about fifteen inches tall
  • Pulmonaria rubra 'David Ward' - red blooms on variegated plants with green leaves and white edges. Twelve inches tall
  • Pulmonaria officinalis - green leaves with white spots, reaches about a foot and a half. Flowers can be pink or blue
  • Pulmonaria hybrid 'Berries and Cream' - pink flowers on plants with green foliage with white spots. Grows to about one foot
  • Pulmonaria angustifolia azurea - bright blue flowers. Leaves are plain green. Six to twelve inches tall
  • Pulmonaria longifolia 'Bertram Anderson' - blue flowers, narrow leaves with white spots. Blooms later than other pulmonarias. Eight to ten inches tall. Flowers are purple-blue
  • Pulmonaria saccharata 'Excalibur' - silver leaves with green veins and edges. Rose pink blooms. Grows up to nine inches

IWILLWRITECAPTION. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of NAMEOFFLICKRUSER and Flickr

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